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Cosmic Explosions
MARCH 2007
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Cosmic Explosions Gallery Photo Birth of a Gamma-ray Burst
Images by Andrew MacFadyen, New York University, and Weiqun Zhang, Stanford. Supercomputing: LBNL and NASA Ames

Hundreds of computers crunching numbers in unison are required to model what happens inside a massive, fast-spinning star in its death throes. After the core collapses, top, plasma jets (blue) spew forth, surrounded by four plumes (orange) of slower gases. A few seconds later, the jets stream toward space, bottom, where they'll release a brilliant burst of gamma rays. Meanwhile, the plumes unfurl like fiery flower petals, driving the supernova. Such massive explosions blast elements like iron, carbon, and oxygen out into the universe. "The iron in our blood comes from supernovas," says astrophysicist Andrew MacFadyen. "There's a direct connection between stars and us."



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